Dewey Blocksma: Art With Soul

On Blocksma’s porch are the works of a guy from Mt. Pleasant who does still sit around and carve. There are giant totem poles showing both domestic and wild animals and a dazzling wood alligator that takes up the entire length of the hall. They’re the creation of 76-year-old Wesley Merritt, who has a junk business, paranoia, and a 4th-grade education. "He’s a Michigan original, the real thing," Blocksma says, meaning he’s a member of a vanishing set of untrained American folk artists, guided by vision and compulsion to create without outside influence. "He works out of his imagination – it’s unintended work."

Blocksma first read about Merritt in a Detroit paper 15 years ago then went to Mt. Pleasant to meet him. "There were summons papers on his workbench that day," Blocksma says. The county was after him for crumbling buildings on his property that didn’t meet code. Blocksma intervened, building him a pole barn from old bowling alley wood to house his junk, and a little lean-to to be his studio.

Blocksma has taken on the role of buffer for Merritt, who’s now in a wheelchair, ever since. "I pick up his work to take to the gallery so he can sell it and help him when people are after him. We never had kids, so this is our way of contributing."

The late Howard Finster also stirs Blocksma. He was a former bike repairman from Summerville, Georgia, who claimed God appeared to him on his thumbnail in 1976 and said to get to work. He worked compulsively before he died, making over 46,000 wood cutouts, on which he’d write its number and scrawl his admonitions. Blocksma pulls down number 32.000.51 from the shelf, and takes off the protective plastic. It’s a Finster self-portrait called Howard Finster in a Shoe.

He reads Finster’s words aloud: "Walk straight to God’s gate. Don’t be faike [sic]."

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